February 24, 2017
The Safety Outside of our Comfort Zone

The Safety Outside of our Comfort Zone

February 24, 2017

I recently spoke with a couple friends over coffee about feeling whole-heartedly unqualified for some of the tasks in my life.  Motherhood, ministry, writing, life in general.  Who am I to take on these tasks? Broken and bent, I felt beyond unqualified and way outside of my comfort zone.

And both friends, in different meetings, in separate coffee shops, listened patiently and quietly to my concerns and then offered the same wise response: "good."
 
They assured me that I was in exactly the place I needed to be.  That there is safety in being outside of my comfort zone, because I have no choice but to rely on God, and the team around me.  In over my head is a good place to be. 

I am not qualified for the life God has called me to.  I am a bible college drop-out.  Mentally ill.  A (recovering) drunk and drug addict.   I'm opinionated and bad at math and can't keep houseplants alive.  But the Lord has given me a passion.   He has given me the gifts of communication and compassion.   He has given me opportunities to use those gifts.  And he wants me to rely on Him. 

Friends, what if we are safest where we feel completely at a loss, because it is there that we have no choice but to rely on God?  It is there that we surround ourselves with a team and pledge to sink or swim together.  It is there that we ask questions and take advice.  It is when we are uncomfortable that we allow God to be God. It is in our weakest places that our eyes are open and watching for miracles.  It is there that we grow to rely on God's amazing power instead of our own power. 

If I am doing life in my own power, from a place of my own meager strength and flimsy qualifications, I am limited to achieve only the things that I can achieve.  But if I am living in the power and strength of an almighty God, there are no limits to what He can accomplish through me.  The power of the almighty God is revealed in our weakness. 

Friend, if you feel unqualified for that task before you, maybe you are.   Maybe your only hope is to call on the mighty hand of God to guide you, equip you, protect you.  Maybe you are exactly where you are meant to be.

That doesn't mean we don't work for it, that we don't study and learn and work hard.  But that at the end of the day, we rely on God.

The question is not am I qualified for this?  The answer will be a resounding no in every area of my life.  The question is, is God calling me to this?  Is this the next right thing for me to do.  And if so, will I faithfully do my best and trust him for the rest? 


We are weak.  And the Lord knows our frailty.  May we step boldly outside of our comfort zones and seek him there. 


February 22, 2017
15 Things I Know For Sure to Be True

15 Things I Know For Sure to Be True

February 22, 2017

I'm struggling today.  And the world as I know it feels frail and broken.  I don't know, from moment to moment what to believe.  But, as a wise friend of mine likes to say "We think in circles, but write in straight lines".  So I've decided to spell out the truest things I know today.

1. God is for us.  God is passionately, whole-heartedly for you and me.  He cherishes and treasures us.

2. We need one another.  And it is strength, not weakness, to know you need those around you.

3. Words always matter.  Choose them carefully.

4. Our pain is sacred ground.  It's okay to expect people to honour it, to take off their proverbial shoes before they enter our most fragile places.

5. People long for connection.  Most of us will say some pretty stupid and awkward things in pursuit of this.

6. It is pretty much always better to say something awkward than to avoid someone who is suffering.  

7. Forgiveness is holy work.  I don't have it figured out yet.

8. The surest way to suffer is to deny pain.  If I fight it, or refuse to feel it at all costs, I will hurt myself and those around me. But If I accept it, feel it, and release it, I can move on.

9. We are world changers, whether we like it or not.  Every one of us is going to change the world.  The question is not if, it's how.

10. Taking care of myself is not selfish.  Expecting the world to take care of me because I haven't taken responsibility for my own wellness is selfish.

11. It is well with my soul.   It's not well with my heart or my head, but it's well with my soul.

12. Sometimes people in our lives are toxic.  And it's our responsibility to stop drinking their poison.  And this is a painful, gut-wrenching process.

13. A good therapist is a smart investment.  Seriously.

14.  God will always meet me in my suffering.

15. The only thing I can change is me.  And that's more than enough to keep me busy for a lifetime.

February 9, 2017
The Thing Hollywood Forgot to Tell Us About Love

The Thing Hollywood Forgot to Tell Us About Love

February 9, 2017

When I was 19 I prayed for God to send someone to love me in a way that could make me believe in His love for me. To send somebody to make love seem tangible and true to this broken girl. And he did.
I met my husband a few days later. 

One day, when our relationship was new, after a fight that was mostly my fault, I turned to my husband-to-be with tears in my eyes and said "how can you love me?" and without skipping a beat he responded "Because I've chosen to love you."

Least. Romantic. Answer. Ever. Or so I thought.

I wanted him to tell me that I made his world spin. That I was beautiful and funny and that I completed him. I wanted a scene from a romantic comedy complete with the big kiss under a majestic tree.  I wanted him to love me because he couldn't help himself.

But 11 years later, can I tell you? He gave me the most romantic answer possible that day.

Because if love was a feeling, his feelings for me could change. If love was something we fell into it would be something we can fall out of. If love was a force that pushed and pulled us into passion against our will like it is in the movies, honestly, we probably wouldn't be married today.

Love as a feeling is terrifying. It's the opposite of safety and security. It's finicky, uncertain.  But love as a choice? That is freeing. It's powerful.  It accepts us where we are at and brings out the best in us.

My husband chose to love me. And I chose to love him back. He's the answer to that prayer I prayed,   loving me as Christ loves the church. Not because I have it all together or always act right or say the right things, but because he has chosen to love me forever, and I him.

Love is putting the other person above yourself. It's laying your life down for the other person in a million little (and sometimes big) ways. It's wanting their happiness and wellness more than your own. It's sacrifice, it's work, it's action.

Love is getting out of bed first to brew the coffee for your spouse (which he does almost every morning.) It's picking up the socks he left on the floor without complaining about it (I'm getting better at that).  It's being a good father to our children, or cooking rice and beans together so that we can pay the electricity bill on time.  It's laughing and weeping through life's twists and turns together.  It's forgiving, a lot.  Love is the small and big choices we make every day. These are not things we do because we love, these things are love.

Love is not warm feelings and grand gestures, although sometimes it will be.  Love is daily putting one foot in front of the other to walk through this difficult life with another human being.  Love is work, a sacred and beautiful and worthwhile work.

May we do the hard, sacred work of loving, and being loved, today.


Will you take a moment to follow me on facebooktwitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.
February 7, 2017
How Would Jesus Debate Stuff on the Internet?

How Would Jesus Debate Stuff on the Internet?

February 7, 2017

When I was a teenager I wore a rainbow coloured hemp bracelet with the letters w.w.j.d braided into it. The idea was to wonder in all life's situations, What Would Jesus Do? And as cheese-ball-esque as the whole movement was, it shaped me. I still stop and look at my situation often and wonder What Would Jesus Do?

And I've wondered this lately as I've watched and engaged in heated online discussions about politics and world events. Am I answering with the same grace and love that Christ would show? Is the very spirit of God present in my words?

To be fair, I'll say that I'm not convinced that if Jesus had come 2000 years later that he would bother with facebook debates and twitter feuds. Maybe he would, I don't know. But I do know that we can glean a lot from scripture about how Christ interacted with people. Here is what stands out to me. This is how I feel Jesus would Debate on the Internet:

Jesus would honour the unique individuality of each person. He would recognize and treat each person as an individual. In scripture we see Jesus meet people with similar infirmities, similar attitudes or sins, and respond to them each in a unique way. We cannot lump together everyone who rallies for the same side in a discussion. Your friend probably doesn't believe in or support everything that's been said by those on the same side of the issues as them. We are all individuals, and the nature of polarizing topics is that when we unpack it all, most of us don't really land on either polar end.

Jesus would come alongside the person who feels weak, marginalized, and alone. I believe that Jesus would not contribute to someone feeling ganged up on or attacked by the masses. Yes, Jesus sometimes spoke harshly to pharisees and hypocrites (and we must be cautious because, unlike Jesus, we do not know people hearts!) but I do not see him anywhere in scripture shooting the wounded. He spoke tenderly to those who felt alone, abandoned and demeaned. Our goal as Christians is never to squash and humiliate our opponent, so we must watch to see that our friends are feeling empowered in the discussion and not abused.

Jesus would be for people. Passionately, powerfully, for people. Not causes, not issues, not political agendas, but people.  To be Christ like in this world is not to be against all the right issues, it is to be radically, sacrificially for people. For the feminist, and for the misogynist. For the prostitute and for the john. For the minimalist and the materialist.  For the babies, the mothers, and the abortionists. For drug addicts, business people, pastors and politicians. It means being for the liberal and the conservative alike. Radical, I know.

Jesus world love his enemies.  We have a Lord who healed his captors and prayed for his executioners.  That person you disagree with is a treasured and cherished being made in the image of his maker, and any truth not bathed in reverence for that fact is not truth at all.

Jesus would pray. I am so very guilty of diving head first into tricky conversations without first seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance, and this is folly and sin. Jesus set an example for us when he took the time to soak up his Father's will before engaging with people. I cannot engage in difficult, meaningful, intelligent conversation without the help of the Holy Spirit.  I just can't.

Jesus would flip some figurative tables. He would braid a whip and engage in holy protest and stand up against injustice. Nobody is asking you to sit down and bite your tongue. We must keep having important conversations and following those conversations up with creative, passionate, and peaceful social action.

You know what else? Jesus would also make scathing remarks that cut to the heart and leave the hearers convicted and angry. He called  hypocrites a “brood of vipers” or “white-washed tombs". But Jesus knew their hearts. He knew their intentions. We don't.  We need to err on the side of humility and kindness because we cannot see one another's hurts and hearts.

More than anything else, those w.w.j.d. bracelets reminded me, as I fell short of the ideal day after day, that I am not Jesus. I am a sinner, and God knows my frailty. He has made gracious reconciliation available to me through His sinless life, death and resurrection.  So the one thing we can do that Jesus didn't have to is make apologies and restoration where we have caused offense. It's okay to have been wrong, there is grace for that. But it's not okay to knowingly leave a friend hurt and marred by our words.

Can I tell you this thing that I've observed? In myself, in my friends, and in the media? We do this thing in christendom where we assume that the person who disagrees with our understanding is evil or wicked. Or, if we are feeling generous, we assume they are just stupid or uneducated. But when we do this we not only risk a friendship, we risk an opportunity to get outside of our own understanding and truly hear another perspective
That friend on the other side of the keyboard is not evil or stupid. They probably aren't even truly your enemy. They are a different person, with different hopes and fears and expectations, who is taking in the information and trying to discern the best answer just like you and I.

As usual, Brennan Manning hits the nail on the head:

"Jesus said you are to love another as I have loved you, a love that will possibly lead to the bloody, anguished gift of yourself; a love that forgives seventy times seven, that keeps no record of wrongdoing. Jesus said this, this love, is the one criterion, the sole norm, the standard of discipleship in the New Israel of God. He said you're going to be identified as His disciples, not because of your church-going, Bible-toting or song-singing. No, you'll be identified as His by one sign only: the deep and delicate respect for one another, the cordial love impregnated with reverence for the sacred dimension of the human personality because of the mysterious substitution of Christ for the Christian." -Brennan Manning, the furious longing of God
wow.

"Cordial love,

Impregnated with reverence.

For the sacred dimension of the human personality.

Because of the mysterious substitution of Christ for the Christian."

Yeah, that. That's what I want to be known for.

This is the question I ask myself now, when my my mind is spinning and my heart is pounding because, oh my goodness, somebody is wrong on the internet: Do I want to be proven right, or do I want to be Christlike? Do I want to make my point, or do I want to honour the unwavering love of God for the person on the other side of these screens?

And if I can't do that, if I can't speak in cordial love, impregnated with reverence, for the sacred dimension of the other, then I must keep silent until I can.

Friends, I believe in us. I believe that we can be real and raw without being demeaning. We can make a case without implying that those on the other side of it are stupid or evil or lazy. We can humbly affirm that there are absolute truths but we don't always know the truth absolutely. I believe we can love people more than we love our opinions. Not perfectly, but increasingly. 

May we love each other well today, online and off.   


February 6, 2017
The Case for Self Esteem: Why I Believe God Wants Us to Love Ourselves

The Case for Self Esteem: Why I Believe God Wants Us to Love Ourselves

February 6, 2017

A wise friend suggested recently that I write an affirmation, a statement of self love, on my bedroom mirror so that I can speak these words to myself every day.  When I tried, I found myself tied in emotional knots.  I wrote out words such as "I am worthy of love" on little yellow sticky notes.  And then I tore the paper up. 

Somewhere in my fundamentalist church beginnings, or my abusive family of origin, or the combination of these two, I got the idea that it was wrong to believe that I am lovable.

And this has played no small part in my life.  It's been the refrain at the end of every marital dispute, every drunken fiasco, every season of despair.  Every cry for help or emotional shit storm in 20 years of addiction and mental illness and chaos has ended with me curled up in a literal or figurative ditch asking anyone who will listen "How can you love me?"  

So this thing, this question, is it a sin to love myself?  It's important.  Life changing. 

There are people reading this who don't understand the struggle.   They don't have to go through mental gymnastics in order to read a self affirmation. They intuitively know that they are loved and lovable.  They easily bask in the love God has for them. This post is not for them.

This post is for the Christian who struggles to stand in the mirror and speak the words "I deserve to be loved."

In my teenage years I ventured from a childhood that punished anything less than excellence with mockery,  emotional neglect, and occasional physical abuse into a conservative, fundamentalist church culture. And in that mix, the narrative I learned was that I deserve hell and death and nothing else.  That self esteem is a lie and that God is to be esteemed and we are but dust.  That any sentence that starts with "I deserve", or "I have a right", should end in death and hell and nothing else.   Because as a sinner, my righteousness is as soiled rags. 

And there is something to this.  It is theologically sound to suggest that, in regards to our eternal destination, we are hell deserving sinners.   All of us.  The grace of God applied at the cross is the only balm that can heal this disastrous state of our soul. 

But we were made to be loved. We were created to be loved.  We were designed to be loved. 

And by that alone we are deserving of love.  Not because of who we are or what we've done but because of who has designed us and why. 

I am not lovable because I've done something to make myself worthy of love.  I am lovable in the very intrinsic nature of my being.  I am lovable because Christ bore all of my unlovableness on the cross.

Friend. I believe that God wants you to love yourself.   The bible tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, to seek to see and respect that sacred virtue in each human being that is made in the very image of God.   

Does the Bible condemn lovers of selves?  Yes, too much concern for ourselves is dangerous.  A biblical love of self is tempered by an equal love of our neighbour.  We are not to devote ourselves to our own interests.  But I am learning that I can love my neighbour a lot more honestly and unconditionally when I can first bask in the love of my creator and accept His love for me.  As long as I am still striving to be lovable, I cannot love my neighbour well.  It is from the resting place of knowing that I am accepted that I can truly accept another person. 

You and I deserve to be loved.  We have an intrinsic value that is not changed by our failings. today or ever.  

In my youth I came to believe that I was soiled dust, broken and failed and ruined, 
but this is not how my God feels about me. 

Growing up, the narrative I received was that I could never be enough.  That I wasn't wanted. That I was always too much.  I was spanked for crying and scolded for coughing.  I didn't deserve the space I took up in this world. 

Your narrative is different, but you heard your own lies.

But my truth, and your truth, the narrative that God has written for us, is that we exist on purpose.  He knew us before we even existed.  He wants us.  He has numbered the hairs on our heads.  He delights in us.  We are treasured and loved.

So I'm choosing to believe my maker.   I am worthy of Love.   He delights in me. 

Friends, I am not suggesting that we close our eyes to who we really are and esteem ourselves as if we have not fallen short of the glory of God.   Not at all.  I am inviting us to see ourselves as God sees us.  As an object of his love and delight. As treasured and valued.  As worthy of love. 

let's scrawl these things on our mirrors and come to believe them.

I was created to be loved.
I deserve love. 

I can treat myself with love. 
I can accept love. 
I am lovable.

Friend, you are worthy of love.  Not because of what you've done, but because of who has made you.  May that truth come to permeate every area of our lives.



Will you take a moment to follow me on facebook, twitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.
February 1, 2017
Ten Things The Church Needs to Know About Mental Illness

Ten Things The Church Needs to Know About Mental Illness

February 1, 2017


I know first hand that the church sometimes sucks at dealing with mental illness.

There was the pastor in the new city where I was attending Bible College who told me he had zero interest in helping me navigate through addiction and depression, and that frankly his church would be better off without me.

There was the pastor who insisted I needed to recommit my life to Christ anew because I couldn't possibly be a true Christian and struggle with the things I do.

There have been sisters in Christ who have told me that they have the one book, one prayer, or one dietary change that would cure and erase all my struggles, that dismissed all my pain and progress with the insistence that they know exactly how to "fix" me.

There was gossip and betrayal and so. much. pain.

But I also know that it isn't always like that.

This year my life blew up again in a million different directions and I needed those around me in a way I didn't want to need anyone. And you know what? They came through.

There were friends that brought meals and offered childcare after my stay in the psychiatric inpatient unit; that visited and sat with me in my pain when they didn't know what to say. Who didn't let the awkwardness keep them away.

There is the pastor who pointed me towards professional help and spoke words of truth and life and encouragement to me when I wanted to die.

There were the friends who let me wrestle with my diagnosis out loud. Who nodded and accepted and loved on me while I wondered through a lifetime of decisions, were they me or my illness?

There was another pastor who showed up at the door to cry and pray with my husband while I spent 16 hours in an emergency room being assessed by doctors and psychiatrists and crisis workers.

There were flowers and gift cards and handwritten prayers left on my doorstep.

I know that some of us struggling with mental illness have felt let down by our churches. But I also know this: There are kind and loving people of God, willing to step into one another's stories in very real and practical ways, despite the awkwardness and uncertainty.  I know that there are compassionate people who want to help and understand.  In that vein, here are 10 Things I wish were common knowledge in the church:

1. My mental illness is not a spiritual deficiency.

I believe that everything about us as human beings is spiritual. A broken bone can be an exercise in faith and acceptance, an opportunity for spiritual growth, and a truth window that reveals to us our areas of need. And the broken bone is a reminder of our fallen state, the broken nature of our existence. But the broken bone itself is not sin or a spiritual deficiency. It is not healed by prayer or bible study. One cannot exercise enough faith to live as if the bone weren't broken. Mental illness is the same. My heart grows heavy when I read that 48 percent of evangelicals believe that severe mental illness can be cured by bible study and prayer alone. Mental illness is a spiritual issue in the same way that any wound or illness is a spiritual issue, because we are spiritual people. But mental illness is not a spiritual deficiency. To portray it as one is tantamount to spiritual abuse. This lie, that mental illness is a spiritual problem, or that the sufferer is under spiritual attack, is a dangerous and destructive teaching that turns us into second class Christians because we cannot will away the symptoms of a physically sick and disordered brain.


2. A person's psychiatric diagnosis does not disappear when they accept Jesus into their life.

Can it? Can God heal that person upon their first proclamation of faith? Of course He can. But that's not always how He works. To acknowledge that God doesn't always cure us completely doesn't deny or detract from His goodness.  If anything, it reminds us of his faithfulness as He walks with us through life's ongoing difficulties.

 Sometimes people suffer with an illness until death. Please don't assume that my struggle means I don't know Jesus. Again, to do so is spiritual abuse.


3. This is life or death. 

 Things like Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Schizophrenia claim lives every single day. Many people who die by suicide do so in the grip of acute mental illness. Their brain is sick and they are desperate. To discourage any sort of treatment that could be life saving is dangerous and unethical. I have friends who have been advised by pastors and christian counselors to cease taking the medications that allow them to live and function well. This is not okay.


4. Science and faith are not at odds here. 

 When any medical crisis hits, we know intuitively that people require both medical care and spiritual care. Just as we don't expect the Sunday morning service to fill the place of treatment for someone with heart disease, or expect a diabetic to stop taking their insulin and pray instead, nor should we expect the church to fill the role of medication and psychotherapy in the mentally ill person's life. Don't ask a sick person to choose between doctors and church. It is not medical vs spiritual. It is not this or that. It's this and that.


5. Yes, be careful with the trite encouragements, but not so careful that you avoid us. 

As humans we will undoubtedly say the wrong thing from time to time. "God won't give you more than you can handle" is contextually about temptation, not illness. "We all feel down sometimes" is perhaps more dismissive than you realize. But I would take trite over avoidance any day. So don't be so afraid to say the wrong thing that you say nothing at all. Your friends who are suffering want your presence, not perfection.


6. When in doubt, we can compare our responses to mental illness to how we would respond to a diabetic.  

If I am unsure of what to say about a friend's struggle with mental illness, I ask myself "would I take this same attitude or make this comment regarding diabetes?"  For example, If I trust my diabetic friend to manage their condition with the help of their doctor and the tools available to them, I can do the same for my mentally ill friends.  It's not a perfect comparison, but it's a helpful rule of thumb. 


7.If it is brave and bold to struggle openly and out loud with mental illness when I am mostly thriving, it is still brave and bold to speak openly when I'm symptomatic. 

I've often been praised by loved ones and strangers for speaking openly about mental illness, until I became symptomatic. And then maybe I shouldn't be so open and honest. It's messy, and awkward, and they would rather I hide away until my emotional responses better fit their definition of normal.


8. Stigma is bad, and I do it to myself. 

It's called self stigma. I feel embarrassed for my symptoms. I shy away from the truth and hide my experiences in fear that I will come across as psycho or unbearable. I type out an honest facebook status and then press delete. I share honestly with a friend and then apologize.  I wrestle with whether or not taking psychiatric drugs makes me "nuts." But my friends remind me that I should feel no more shame than if I had any other illness. The fact that my attempts to manage my illness are not always successful is not shameful, it is a fact of life in this broken world.

I really believe that as people living with mental illness in the church (up to 25% of us at any given time) we can help end that self stigma by speaking honestly about our experiences. We can trust that when we advocate for ourselves we are advocating for countless others in similar situations. But that's easier said than done.


9. There are no simple answers. 

We are talking about complex problems that often involve multifaceted approaches that will have to change over time. What works today to manage my illness might not work 2 years from now. And yes, I've probably read that book or tried that herbal supplement you think will heal me. It didn't. Please don't dismiss a lifetime of coping with the suggestion that you have the one resource that will change everything.


10. The church, as we know it, is us. We decide daily whether to rally around and support or ignore and judge.

If you only take away one thing from this article, I hope it is this: We can change the church because we can change our own response to people around us who are in pain.

Is the church failing those with mental illness? That is up to us. You and I. Because we are the church. And if we want the church to be a safe place for people to openly share their struggles, then we need to respond in love and support to those around us. You and I can be like my friends this year who brought casseroles and encouragement. Or we can be the people who look away from mess and pain, who judge without knowing and condemn before reaching out. You and I decide the church's response to mental illness every single day, in the ways we choose to engage those who are suffering, in the way we choose to tell our own stories, in the way we choose to respond to the needs around us.


Is the church failing people with mental illness? Sometimes, yes. But the church is also rallying around in support and love, learning and listening so that they can better be there for their brothers and sisters who are hurting. Let's be that church today.